Amanda started shaking her head, while twisting the paper bag with her hands. "I..I..I suspected, but just hoped that.. well, I prayed..but..never...was never sure.." She stopped in mid-sentence.
"Amanda come on." I coaxed. "You are a high school graduate, honors in biology if I recall. You must have thought me quite the fool when I swallowed the whole 'premature birth', baby come early, load of crap you spouted." Now I was shaking my head. "You can see why I have a difficult time believing in any of your words, when you not only cheated, but had me raise another's man child."
"It wasn't like that Mark! After Josh and I...I just felt so ashamed. I didn't want anyone to touch me, not even you. I swore I would become the best mother and wife ever. Then when I found out I was pregnant. I..I just panicked. I had these nightmares you would throw me out, take away our son, make me have an abortion."
"Amanda, at any point in our time together, did I every threaten you? Every make you do anything you did not want to? You know how family centered I am, how I was raised." I stopped to rub my temples. "If you had come to me we could have worked it out. However, you chose to lie to me."
"It was just that one lie Mark!"
"No Amanda, it was not one lie. It was a lie every day up to today. Every day you chose to live and tell a lie."
"I didn't have a choice." Amanda pleaded.
"You always had a choice Amanda. At any time you could have come to me. You chose to continue that lie, and I do not know how many others. Now it is my choice."
"Please Mark." Amanda begged. "Don't tell the boys!"
"Amanda the time for lying is over. Children who experience secrecy and lies cannot trust what they are told, they become insecure and dependent. When the framework of the family finally collapses, there may be no honest relationships to fall back on. The children feel cast adrift, so either you tell them, or I tell them.
"Oh my God." Amanda said. "What will I say? 'Boys your mother is a cheap, lying, ungrateful, gutter slut who cheated on your father!'"
Now I had to smile. "Well Amanda, you may wish to skip the part about the 'cheap lying ungrateful gutter slut'. How about we tell the boys their mother made a mistake, but they are still both our sons, and this changes nothing about the love we have for them."
The boys took it pretty well. I guess with all their friends having stepdads, stepmoms, two moms, or two dads and "blended families" it was not a big deal to them.
Amanda was a bit bitter about the whole thing. She kept harping on how we could work it out, what a waste not to enjoy the house we had worked so hard on. But I was just done with the whole thing, and wished to move on.
Oddly enough the house was a bigger hassle then the divorce. Our MegaBank gave us the runaround when we tried to give it back. They killed short sales we had lined up, and we never seemed to talk to the same person twice. Depending on who you were talking to at the MegaBank, you got different answers to the same questions. Plus the paperwork was unreal. I believe we personally deforested a greater part of Washington State's trees on just our written requests alone. Thank God my brother Eric tapped one of his buddies, who was a real legal eagle in real estate transactions and legislation to help us. In a short few months, he proved the MegaBank not only violated their own internal policies, but also many state and federal laws passed to protect underwater homeowners.
In a bizarre twist, the MegaBank ended up owing us money. When they did not even show up for the court hearing (despite four registered letters), we obtained a default judgment that give us the house free and clear, plus court and attorney costs. It became a three ring circus when our attorney showed up at a branch of the Megabank with two armed Sheriff's, a writ, and moving company to seize assets (furniture and computer equipment, etc.) when the Megabank ignored countless notices to pay attorney fees. The local media was in full force, and even bystanders pitched in to help remove bank fixtures as the shocked bank manager tried to get someone from "higher up" to return his phones calls. The Megabank manager was using his personal cell phone as they had seized his office phone. We and our Attorney became celebrities for a while when the "David beats Goliath" story went nationwide.
Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the addition of the house threw a monkey wrench into up our divorce settlement. Amanda did not want to sell the house now. So after much "debate", she agreed to pay me half of what would be the rental value, and she would be responsible for gas, electric, water, etc. We would go 50/50 on insurance and taxes, with the proceeds from any future sale to be split equally.
I now did what every recently divorced, middle aged, man does, and rented a crummy apartment short term while I figured out to do with my life. Naturally, I joined a gym to try to get back in shape.
I hate going to the gym, I was standing at the reception area dreading the free session with my personal trainer when I heard.
"Mark! Oh My God it's so Good to see you!"
I turned around to spot my old neighbor Kathy. She looked great. Kathy was dressed in skin tight leotards with the gyms name displayed across her chest and back. Kathy gave me a hug. Damn she was firm everywhere, and I felt myself getting firmer someplace too.
"Kathy you look...outstanding." I said as she released me from our embrace. "What are you doing here?"
"I work here Mark. Well part time anyway at least." Kathy looked down at a clipboard she was carrying. "Also it looks like I am your personal trainer this evening. What machine do you want to start out on?"
"Ah..how about the vending machine?" I offered. "I'll buy you the candy bar of your choice."
Kathy gave a laugh and dragged me into a slew of devices that could have been at home in a medieval dungeon to extract confessions. I saw none of the machines I recalled from my high school gym days.
I tried not to show any weakness, but after 90 minutes, I had vomited twice. Like any pusedo macho male, I lied and explained away my rushes to the bathroom on a too much coffee at the office. The place must have had metric weights, because I know pounds were never that heavy.
Kathy took pity on me, agreeing to meet at a coffee shop after I limped away to the locker room.
She looked fresh and radiant holding onto my arm as we stood in line at one at the local java joints, while I felt like a dead man walking.
"Kathy, when did coffee get so complicated?" I said, after she rattled off what sounded like the makings of a chemistry science experiment to the guy taking our order. "If I recall there were only three types of coffee. Small, Medium and Large."
Kathy laughed. She had the high musical tone I remembered well. "Mark, just tell the Barista what you like, and he can mix you up something."
"Barista? My God." I shook my head in amazement. "Okay, please give me something a heterosexual male could drink at a football game that would not get his ass kicked."
Kathy swatted my shoulder as we walked to a table.
"Mark, I really miss you."
"Hell Kathy, you just miss having someone to do the free home repairs."
Kathy blew on the concoction that passed for her coffee before answering. "Well, there is that too. I am sorry about you and Amanda." She sipped her drink. "Hard to believe that women cheated on you."
I had to gag to stop from choking on my coffee. "What! Who! How! How did you know?"
Kathy looked at me a second before putting down her cup and speaking. "No one told me. I have known you and Amanda for a long time." She shrugged. "Nothing I can prove, just an old cop's wife intuition. Amanda always had that 'Hope I don't get caught, look what I got away with' vibe about her."
I thought about what Kathy had said. "So Amanda never told you anything?"
Kathy shrugged again. "No Mark she did not. Would it help you get back together if she did? You know if you..knew more details?"
I shook my head. "No. It is not about the cheating, well, yes it is about the cheating. But this is more about the lies and mistrust. That I can't get over. I have about as much chance of finding trust in Amanda as a blind man with a microscope. Without trust." I wiggled my hand. "Why bother? The marriage is over."
I tried to lighten the mood, and got Kathy laughing as I told the saga of our home/bank/repo confrontation, plus the unusual house split between me and Amanda. I was really enjoying myself and time seemed to fly by as we both enjoyed ourselves. Suddenly Kathy looked at her watch. "I am really sorry Mark, but I need to go. The last bus leaves in a few minutes."
"No worries Kathy, I'll give you a ride home."
"Thanks so much, my car won't start. Bad starter I think, and well, work has been cutting back on my hours. Things have been a little tight, so I need to wait until next payday before I can get the car towed to the shop to get it fixed."
Now I looked at my watch. "Oh screw that Kathy, why didn't you call me before? I'll pick up a starter, and put it in your car. If we leave now we can get to the Auto parts store before they close."
"That would be so great Mark. For the past month, I've needed to leave home three hours early to catch all the buses, and it's still a 30 minute walk to work from the nearest bus stop. " Then Kathy paused. "But, I..um..don't have the money right now..."
I waved her off. "Forget it, you need a car. We'll deal with the repayment when you get ahead of the game. Besides, all my tools and stuff are still in my..I mean Amanda's garage. I have not gotten around to getting them moved." Standing up, I offered her my arm. "Come Fair Lady, the Prius Hybrid Chariot awaits."
Kathy gave me puzzled look. "Hybrid Prius? What happened to that monster macho manly SUV of yours?"
I grimaced. "I got tired of driving from gas station to gas station. I think my carbon footprint was killing off an acre of the rainforest every day. Everyone constantly giving me looks, like I was some kind of Ecoterrorist."
Kathy looked amused. "I just cannot see you in a hybrid."
"Yea, I can almost feel my testosterone level dropping as I squeeze into that plastic jellybean. You know how it is with us guys, size matters."
She chuckled as I opened the car door for her.
We caught a break, the auto store had a starter that fit Kathy's car (and bonus, it was on sale!). Amanda was not home, but I still had the garage door code, so with the right tools and 90 minutes later I had Kathy's car all fired up.
Kathy was so excited she grabbed me in a tight hug, planting a big kiss right on the lips. I did not return the embrace, having a grease covered tool in my hand. However, another covered tool further south was making itself known. If Kathy noticed, she did not say anything.
Cleaning up, I saw the water spigot would not turn off completely, and the drain was slow.
Drying my hands, I pointed at the sink. "Kathy, why didn't you call me? I could have taken care of that."
"Mark, I knew you and Amanda were having bigger problems. I did not want to bother you over trivial stuff. Besides when they started cutting back at work, I couldn't afford.." She turned away, but not before I saw tears in her eye. "I am not a charity case!"
I stepped up and put my arm around her shoulder. "It's not charity, just one neighbor helping another." I gave her a squeeze. "Besides I got lots of free time now, and it looks like you got some things that need to be done to fill that time. Tell you what, let's make a list, and like Kris Kringle, check it twice! Now be nice and please get me a pen and some paper. "
Kathy wiped her eyes, but she had a small smile as she turned toward me. "Ok Santa, but if you are too nice, I cannot promise I won't be naughty."
For the next two weeks, I seemed to spend all my free time at Kathy's house. Her home did not need anything major, just a lot of small stuff from screen mesh repair, and rusty door hinges, to chalking splash guards.
I didn't get to get to see her "naughty" side, but enjoyed our time together. One night, after a few glasses from a bottle of wine, Kathy talked about her first husband.
"He was a good man Mark. Always helping others. He got killed when a drunk driver hit him. He was not even on duty. He had stopped on his way home from the gym to help a lady who had a flat tire. Damn drunk never even slowed down." She took another sip of her drink. "He was a fighter though! He held on for four days. You know the last thing he told me?"
I stayed silent.
"Mark the last words my husband said were not about him, they were about his family." Tears were streaking down her face now. "He said, 'Take care of our boys. Take care of our boys and take care of yourself."
I moved around the table to hold her as she continued. "I never thought it would be like this. Because he was off duty, we never got any of the survivor benefits. His small life insurance policy helped us get this house. Cops take care of their own, and his squad was always there to help. But I had to move. Because as wonderful as they were, it just kept reminding me of his death. I just never..I just never thought it would be this hard."
I let Kathy cry herself out, there were no words that needed to be said.
The next morning I was under the bathroom sink fixing the drain. I felt someone tap my foot.
"Mark where did you go last night?" I hear Kathy say.
"Back to my crummy little apartment." I replied, pulling off the drain trap. "You were pretty much out of it. So I put you to bed before I left."
I stuck my hand out from under the sink and showed Kathy the drain trap. "Damn girl! Look at all this hair! You been washing a mongoose in the sink? Why if I.."
Suddenly the front door slammed open, and I heard footsteps, followed by a shrill voice. "WHERE IS HE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH MY HUSBAND YOU DAMN SLUT!"
Banging my forehead as I pulled my head out from under the sink, I saw Amanda's feet in the bathroom doorway.
"YOU BITCH!" Amanda screamed at Kathy. "LEAVE HIM ALONE!"
I jumped up, putting myself between a shocked Kathy and an enraged Amanda.
"Amanda what are you doing here?" I asked, trying to defuse the situation.
Amanda took her focus off Kathy, turning on me.
"Damn It Mark I know what is going on! Every night you're coming out of this sluts house, clothing all messed up! Sweaty like some farm hand plowing the field. I know what you have been plowing!" Amanda paused, it looked like she was trying to calm herself. "I accept you are trying to get even with me. But you have had your fun screwing this bitch. It's time for us to get back together."
I was so shocked I could hardly speak. "Amanda, there is no getting back together. That time is long passed. Besides nothing has been going on with Kathy."
I felt Kathy's arms envelope me from behind before she spoke. "That right Amanda, noting has been going on. But guess what? That is going to change right now. My late husband 'God rest his soul', told me to take of myself. And I intend to start right now by taking your EX-husband upstairs and fucking his brains out."
Now it was Amanda and I that stood there dumb-struck, Kathy moved from behind me and took Amanda's arm, leading her out the open front door. "Now please, do not be a stranger, but call first. We are going to be busy for a while." With that Kathy closed the door on a still mute Amanda.
Kathy walked back toward me, as I finally found my voice to speak. "Kathy that was....something. Thanks for the back-up and ego boost, but it was not necessary."
Kathy stood directly in front of me and took off her shirt. She had on no bra, and even for her age, Kathy's beasts were a sight to behold.
I managed to take my eyes off those two beauties, and look into Kathy's eyes, kicking myself for what I was about to say. "You sure you want to do this?"
Kathy put her arms around my neck. "Mark, I have known you longer than I knew my husband. I loved him like I loved no other, and I have fulfilled my promise to him to take care of our boys. Now I intend to fulfill my other promise to him, and take care of myself." With that she grabbed my hand and led me upstairs to the bedroom."
I am not sure who was more nervous. I did not want to screw things up, and Kathy had not been with a man for almost two decades. But just like riding a bike, we kept our balance and found the right speed.
The pillow talk got interesting when Kathy declared. "Mark, you need to move in with me." It was a declaration, not a question.
"Hold on. That is a bold statement. Aren't you afraid of this just being a rebound event?"
Kathy propped herself up on one arm, allowing me a view of those wonderful breasts. "Mark, we have been friends for most of our lives." She put her hand up to stop me from speaking. "We are too old to play games. It is a win-win. You need a place to live, I have a place available. I care for you, you care for me. I have needs, and you do too. Why should you pay rent to some faceless landlord? If it makes you feel better you can put what you would spend on rent toward the mortgage. Besides you know this house better than anyone."
"Kathy won't it be weird with.." I pointed across the street at my old house where Amanda lived.
Kathy just shrugged. "Not my problem. I am past caring what other people think, I only care what you think. Your old house is still in your name. That is a major investment, and what better way to look out after your investment than by seeing it every day."
And so we did. It was odd for a while. Amanda was still bitter about the whole event. She seemed unable to move on.
"Damn it Mark!" Amanda said to me one day as I was at "her" house sealing a crack in the driveway. "When are you coming back home? This is crazy, you know you belong with me. What can I do? You know I am sorry for....everything. Just tell me what needs to be done to make this go away."
I put the top away on the sealant before speaking. "Amanda, I know you are sorry, and so am I. The fact is we are not getting back together, you need to continue on with your life. Find someone else."
"Like who?" Amanda spat. "I work in a salon with gay hairdressers, most of my customers are first wives." She looked at the ground. "Never did I think I would be one of them."
I said nothing and started packing up my tools.
"Come on Mark." Amanda pleaded. "Surely you can give me another chance, just forgive and forget, at least for our boys sake. I mean the holidays are coming up, we need to be together."
"Amanda, you are forgiven, and you had a chance every day for over a decade that you decided not to take. As far as forgetting..." I shook my head. "It is true the Holidays are coming up. The boys will be coming home from school, we can have alternate dinners at both yours and Kathy's home with all the kids like in the past."
Amanda crossed her arms defiantly. "I am not having that whore in my house! There is no way I am going to step foot in that bitch's house!"
I just shrugged. "I guess we will miss you."
I thought the holidays would be awkward for the kids, given the new living arrangements between their parents and all. That fear was unfounded as both sets of kids took it in stride. I guess that is a good thing, but Damn, doesn't anything phase their generation?
The boys attended two dinners, so not to upset either mother. But by Christmas, the kids put enough pressure on Amanda to stop into Kathy's house for a short visit. Kathy asked her to stay, but to no avail.
Kathy tells me she has nothing against Amanda, and has no qualms about me spending time there doing house repairs, or events with my boys and Amanda. I do not think they will ever be friends as they once were, but Amanda seems to be warming up, and is at least civil to Kathy as time has passed.